The most divisive issue in Caps-land
I’m ready to tackle the most divisive issue in Caps-land. Not the lack of a 2C or a shut-down defenseman, not Bruce Boudreau’s playoff coaching abilities. No, someone much more divisive.
Let’s do this.
I was chatting recently with some fans about the evolution of Jeff Schultz and remarking about how the chronic Schultz hate that gripped certain segments of the Verizon Center in years past is thankfully eroding. Personally, I’ve always been a Schultz fan and never understood the venom. I’ve skated as a defenseman for most of my hockey-playing days and I can tell you that No. 55 has two top-notch attributes that defensemen would kill for, namely phenomenal positioning and gap control. By routinely being in the right place at the right time he prevents passes from ever happening, which in turn prevents scoring chances. His gap control – evident when opponents skate through the neutral zone – is also superb. Assuming a forward can even collect a pass on Schultz’s side of the ice, there’s still the difficult chore of getting around Schultz’s stick and reach. Like I said, I’m a Schultz fan.
If my purely subjective opinion is not enough to sway you let me throw out some stats. We all know that Schultz led the league in +/- last year at +50. There’s an advanced stat called “+-ON/60” (courtesy of behindthenet.ca), which measures a player’s impact across a 60-minute game. At 5-on-5, Schultz was at +2.62 for 2009-10, which means that over a 60-minute time frame he was on the ice for 2.62 more goals scored than goals against. That was good for second in the NHL to Alex Ovechkin’s +2.76. For those of you that think that Schultz solely benefits from playing with Mike Green, think again. Green’s number at 5-on-5 was +2.09, meaning that Green was less effective without his partner Schultz than with him on the ice. Sounds like Green may need Schultz more than Schultz needs Green.
If “+-ON/60” doesn’t sway you there’s another stat, “+-OFF/60”, which shows how the team does when a player is not on the ice. Schultz’s “+-OFF/60” for 2009-10 was +0.91, good for fourth on the team. That means when Schultz was off the ice the Caps were 0.91 goals better than the opposition across 60 minutes; when he was on the ice they were 2.62 goals better. The difference between those numbers – what Behindthenet.ca calls “Rating” – was +1.81, second on the Caps to Ovechkin’s +2.08 and seventh in the NHL. The next closest Capital to Schultz was Mike Green at + 1.36 – almost a half-goal behind Schultz.
Conclusion: Jeff Schultz is an impact player, with or without Mike Green.
How does he do this? Very quietly. Most casual fans only notice player’s fantasy stats (goals, assists, points) as well as big hits and fights. What some miss are the nuances of perfect positioning. Rarely will you ever see someone comment by saying “did you see Schultz prevent that pass to the winger? The center was forced to enter the zone in traffic, got poke-checked and the Caps got a 3-on-2 from it.” Or “did you see the forward have to take an extra step to get around Schultz which allowed Mike Green to catch up to the play and take away the potential scoring chance?” He makes those types of non-glamorous plays several times a game, which are just as effective as Schultz standing up a forward at the blue line with a bone-jarring hit.
A good football analogy is that he’s like a very good offensive lineman – quietly keeping his QB’s jersey clean but doing it without highlight-reel pancake blocks. Yet it’s the one holding penalty (or this) that fans harp on and never get over. Considering his whole body of work the venom isn’t justified.
Do I think Schultz will ever turn into an elite defenseman? No. Let’s start by accepting that his lack of physicality is what holds him back from being absolutely dominant in the defensive zone. He’s not the answer to a Sidney Crosby or a Scott Hartnell parking in front of the net and wreaking havoc. I’ll also throw a bone to the anti-Schultz crowd by acknowledging that, yes, he lacks any sort of sandpaper-like qualities and makes Pierre Turgeon look like a tough customer. Finally, he has minimal offensive upside, with his inflated 23 points last season a result of the high quality of teammates he played with. But let’s keep his expectations within reason. He is not a solid two-way defenseman who will annually compete for the Norris Trophy nor is he a player who will energize his teammates by crunching forwards or dropping the gloves. He'll never become the physical presence some fans expect out of a 6-foot-6 player so let's appreciate him for what he actually is: a responsible defensive defenseman who quietly excels on defense, allows his teammates to take risks and keeps pucks out of his net. His very impressive stats prove it. Considering his $2.7M price tag I am more than thrilled with his play. Like him or not, Jeff Schultz is an absolute steal for the Washington Capitals.
| November 2, 2010; 1:26 PM ET
Categories: Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily | Tags: Capitals, Kareem El-Alaily
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